These unique family tree designs–some hundreds of years old–are creative and artistically stunning. Some are about actual families, and others re-create the family tree of an entire culture or empire. Which ones inspire you?
These 9 Unique Family Tree Designs Will Take Your Breath Away
I found these gorgeous and unique family tree designs online. Some of them are hundreds of years old; others are much younger. Some are brightly-colored; others are not. Whether murals, wood-carvings, engravings, or drawings, they are all absolutely stunning. Though I may not paint my living room ceiling with images of all my ancestors, they certainly inspire me.
1. A Russian Royal Pedigree Mural
This show-stopping “Genealogic tree of Russian sovereigns” ceiling mural appears in the front vestibule of Moscow’s State Historical Museum. The Museum itself is home to over four million artifacts, but I could probably spend all day just staring at this one.
Creative Commons Photo: Wikipedia / Shakko. Click to view full information.
2. A “Crooked” Family Tree
The image below comes from the collection of the Wellcome Library, “one of the world’s leading libraries on medical history and the human condition.” It’s an engraving with no known date or artist attached to it. Although it appears to be a caricature drawing of a family tree, the item description disagrees: “A type of family tree with the parents occupying the centre space surrounded by their progeny with each of the figures appearing to be suffering from some kind of deformity.”
Creative Commons Image: Wikimedia, click to view. Credit: Wellcome Library, London, wellcomeimages.org. Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.
3. A Carved Beauty in a Remote Palace
This is carved family tree of Edward Woynillowicz, found at the Sawiczy palace in the Minsk region of the Russian empire. Edward was the leader of the Minsk agricultural society and a humanitarian leader during World War I. The carving appears to be dated 1905. It’s sure beautiful!
Wikimedia Commons image; click to view. This work is in the public domain in the U.S.
4. “Uncle Sam’s Family Tree”
In 1900, John F. Waite published this drawing of “Uncle Sam’s Family Tree,” along with a folksy description of the history of the United States (or the growth of this “tree”). He cleverly portrays the “grafting” in of various branches or states of the country as they were acquired by conquest or purchase. Here’s the article, and following, a close-up of the tree itself:
5. A Drawing with Great Genealogical Value
This “Family tree of the Weigert Family – showing the birth, etc. of Paul Ehrlich and of his cousin Carl Weigert” is another Wellcome Library image. It’s not just a fancy drawing. Look closely at the detail image shown here, and you’ll see that genealogical information is actually written onto the tree.
Creative Commons Image: Wikipedia. Wellcome Library, London. wellcomeimages.org. Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0. Click to view.
Creative Commons Image: Wikipedia. Wellcome Library, London. wellcomeimages.org. Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0. Click to view.
6. The Family Tree of Noah
This 1749 engraving of the “Genealogical tree of Noah after the Biblical flood” was created by J. Hinton for the Universal Magazine:
Creative Commons Image: Wikipedia / http://www.peopleofar.com/category/literature/page/2/. This work is in the public domain. Click to view.
7. A Princess and her Pedigree
This portrait of Empress Elisabeth Petrovna (1709-1762) with her family tree provides an at-a-glance family history for this Russian royal. It also dates from the mid-1700s.
Creative Commons Image: Wikipedia. Click to view. This work is in the public domain.
8. Magnificent Mayolica Mural
This unique family tree design is artfully executed in colorful Mayolica tiles. It’s titled “Arbol geneologico del comienzo del mestizaje” (Genealogical tree of the beginning of the mestizo), by Gorky Gonzales Quiñones (Museum of Artes Populares, Mexico City, Mexico).
This is a headstone in the burial ground of the Abbey of Dulce Cor in southwest Scotland, better known as “Sweetheart Abbey.” Carved in stone is the Jardine Family Tree. According to a note on the image file, “This is quite substantial; the family tree continues on the other side of the stone.” This creative approach to sharing your family tree isn’t cheap. Genealogy Gems Contributing Editor Sunny Morton shared with me a recent article in Ohio Genealogy News that priced “tombstone tree” carvings at $10,000 or more. But this is certainly a lasting monument. (Just make sure your tree is right before you invest in a project such as this one.)
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Wikipedia Image: click to view.
More Unique Family Tree Designs on Pinterest
One of my Pinterest boards offers even more unique family tree designs and other heritage decor for your own halls, walls, and display areas. Click here to take a look at my How to Display Your Family Tree board–then follow me on Pinterest to keep track of the genealogy eye-candy I share there!
About the Author
Lisa Louise Cooke is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.
Can you imagine the excitement of stumbling into family history memorabilia that included a voice from long ago on a Voice-O-Graph record? Sometimes the challenge is not finding a family history treasure, but instead it is “unlocking” its precious contents. Here’s one Gem’s story and her request for help. Being a podcaster came in very handy in answering this email!
Voice-O-Graph Brings Her Father’s Voice Back
From our Genealogy Gems reader and podcast listener:
One of the things I love about Genealogy Gems is your appreciation of ephemera. I’m giddy when I find newspaper articles and documents for my family. I recently took everything out of my parents’ “picture closet” and found a treasure trove of documents and photos, such as the will my father wrote and sent to his parents when he entered the army air corps in WWII, the telegram my aunt sent when she eloped, and my grandfather’s WWI registration papers. I even found the scrap of paper on which my father wrote my mother’s phone number when he asked her on their first date, “Laura Lee HE5882”.
One of the items I found is a January 1944 “Voice-O-Graph” my father recorded and sent to my grandmother. It’s in the original envelope, too. I’m interested in having the recording digitized. The reason I seek guidance is that all of the websites for audio transfer services have pretty lurid landing pages. Even if it’s not possible to get a decent dub of the old record, I’d at least like to feel confident that I’d get the 78 back in one piece.
Any ideas? Thank you!
Digitizing a Voice-O-Graph Record
Entrusting your precious Voice-O-Graph record with an unknown website service could be pretty unnerving. Anytime you ship something, there’s always a rish of damage or loss. Before sending away your precious heirloom, try these do-it-yourself methods to create a digital recording.
If you have several records to digitize, I usually suggest looking at purchasing your own turntable that can record to digital. I have one that looks like an old time radio. Here’s one that is on the lower cost end.
In Lisa’s case, it sounds like she has just one record to digitize. If she has a turntable that can play 78s, she can first try playing the records and recording the sound through her computer’s microphone, a handheld recorder, or a smartphone using a free app like Evernote that can record audio.
The next option would be to purchase a converter like this one. You plug your turntable into it, and then plug an external hard drive into the converter, and play and record.
By the way, if your voice-o-graph is a bit warped, this article offers help.
When I discovered an old reel-to-reel recording in my own family, I took it to our church sound system technician. They had new digital equipment, as well as also older equipment. They were able to easily record a digital version for me.
Lisa did eventually get the record digitized. Take a listen for yourself:
As you can hear, Lisa’s father’s recording has a lot of background noise. His voice is far off in the distance and could use some enhancement. But the first challenge was to get the record digitized.
Enhancing the Quality of the Voice-O-Graph Recording
Once you have created an mp3 recording, you can then try to improve the quality of the sound with a free software program called Audacity. Sound improvement is a series of fixes and edits that you apply to the audio file. It’s a gentle process of balancing the bringing forward of the voice while keeping noise tolerable. It’s definitely an art, and not a science. Initial improvements you can easily make include:
Removing “Clicks” – These appear as tall spikes on the audio track in Audacity. Carefully highlight them and delete.
Applying Noise Reduction – Apply noise reduction sparingly, and focus on the elements of the recording that are the most important to you. Noise reduction can add a sort of warped quality to the sound if applied too heavily. Apply just enough to remove unwanted noise that is getting in the way of the voice, while keeping distortion tolerable. You’ll hear a bit of this in my edited version of Lisa’s audio file below. The recording had deteriorated so much that a lot of what is said is lost. I opted to tolerate heavier nose reduction in order to make much more of the voice understandable.
Amplifying the Audio– Apply amplification to the entire track, and then go back and reduce amplification in the areas that do not include the voice. This can be a tedious process, but as you will hear in my version of the audio below, it can pay off.
The Man Behind the Voice
“My father (Capt. C. William Beringhaus) was in the 15th Air Force, 99th Bomb Group flying B-17s. This recording was made in Salt Lake City in January, 1944 just after he completed aviation cadet training in Lubbock, Texas. He was sent to Salt Lake as part of a pilot’s pool before being sent to Sioux City, Iowa for training in the B17.
Capt. C. William Beringhaus
In the recording it sounds like he says that he is in town and is making the recording because “Woody” made one. I believe Woody might have been Capt. Morris S. Wood, the bombardier. “
Do You have a Voice-O-Graph Recording?
While I have picked up a few Voice-o-Graph records complete with mailing envelopes at antique stores over the years, I’m not fortunate enough to have found one in my own family (at least not yet!).
Do you have a Voice-O-Graph recording in your family? Leave a Comment below and tell us about it. Where did you find it? Who’s voice is on the recording? And have you digitized it yet?
If you’re like me, you would give anything to share family history with kids and not be met with an eye roll. Here are three clever ways to capture their imagination, put a smile on their face, and most importantly, help them soak in the importance of their family history. You’re going to want to try them today!
Share Family History with Kids through Surprising Greeting Cards
About a year ago, my mother-in-law began sending monthly cards to each of the families. Though addressed to the grandchildren, they were fun for everyone. My youngest, now 9 years old, excitedly tears into the envelope and wants to be the first to see the card. She smiles and giggles at Grandma’s funny stories. We keep the card on the front of the fridge until the next one comes. They have become special keepsakes we will save for future generations.
These glossy greeting cards hold special pictures and stories of her past. One such card had an old picture of her as a child sitting around the table with her extended family.
The front of the card said, “Can you guess who I am? When this picture was taken I was only 6 years old.” The inside of the card then told the names and relationships of those around the table.
Another card she created was a collage of Christmas ornaments. It inspired me to create a card that shared images of my own family Christmas heirlooms and ornaments of the past. What a neat way to preserve that part of our history and share it with the next generation. After all, stories of how our ancestors celebrated special events is often enjoyed by even those that don’t consider themselves ‘genealogists.’
Share Family History with Kids through Shareable Art for Social Media
Getting a card in the mail was fun for the younger ones who rarely get a letter, but our teens were more interested in what was showing up on their social media feeds. Teen family members spend many hours on social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest are just a few of the many outlets available today. If the kids are already surfing your feed, why not share with them some family history in a creative, colorful post.
Recently, I downloaded an app called Rhonna Collage. Rhonna Collage is available only for Apple devices, but there is a similar app for Android devices called Rhonna Designs.
As I found new pictures of my ancestors, I used the Rhonna Collage app to design shareable art for posting to social media. I added a background, a picture, and text. Then, I shared my creation to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. My cousins swooned and the teen nieces and nephews clicked the “thumbs-up” or “heart” emojis to show their like for the post. Sometimes, they even post a comment or question! Even better, my designs can be downloaded by them, shared again, or even printed.
Share Family History with Kids at an Ancestor Birthday Bash
If you are interested in sharing family history in a more dramatic way, ancestor birthday bashes may be right up your alley!
Ancestor birthday bashes started when my sister and I wanted an interactive activity that immersed the kids in their family history. Everyone loves a birthday party, right? So, we created ancestor birthday bashes.
The party takes place on or near the birthday of an ancestor. Our first birthday bash was for my grandpa, Robert Cole. I interviewed my mother, his daughter, about all his favorite things. We used his favorite treats of RC Cola and Baby Ruth candy bars as decoration and treats for the party. Grandpa Cole was also a coal miner and we were able to find bags of coal (made of chocolate!) to give to each of the kids. During the celebration, we shared fun stories and pictures of Grandpa.
A day or so later, my niece Candice told her mother, “I know why Grandpa Cole’s favorite pop was RC.” When asked why, she replied, “Because his initials were R. C.!” We considered that a win! She was paying attention and all had a great time.
Ancestor birthday bashes are a way to teach cultural history as well. If you celebrate an ancestor originally from another country, you could include authentic food, games, and decorations to make the event really memorable.
Even More Ways to Share Family History with Kids
These were just three ways to teach and share your family history with your kids, and even nurture the next generation of budding genealogists. For even more ideas, read the posts below.
When was the last time you sent a letter or email to someone you didn’t know? Gail did, and you will be touched and inspired by her sweet story of finding a long lost cousin in Italy. Sometimes, all it takes is sending a letter to make a monumental cousin connection.
I often encourage our readers and Genealogy Gems Podcast listeners to reach out of their comfort zone. Writing letters is just one way we can expand your search for records and cousin connections. I wanted to share with you this story of how reader Gail was rewarded by simply writing a letter.
The only known photo of Antonio Capetti – the ancestor who links Gail with her Italian cousins.
“It is because of listening to your podcast, that we just returned from the most amazing trip of a lifetime!
My husband & I had scheduled a fabulous trip to Italy, where I’d always wanted to go. It is the home of my father’s ancestors, and I have been researching this side of the family since the early 1980s.
A couple weeks before we left, I was determined to find a living relative still in Italy. I remembered your suggestion to write to the priest in the old family village. I wrote to the priest and included a letter to any “found” family member briefly outlining the family tree and including a return envelope. Imagine my excitement when, the week before we left, I received a letter from a long lost relative! 81-year old Mario was amazed that after over a century, the two branches of our family would get together again. We began texting and set up a meeting place.
We met Mario in Venice and all cried when we met – feeling that family connection immediately.
Then, at his suggestion, we hired a car to take us to our old family hometown, where he walked us through town and showed us a concrete medallion on the building where our ancestors lived, inscribed with the family name.
We went to the church and saw our name also inscribed on the baptismal font, as it had been a gift from our family. We walked to the cemetery and then had lunch together. During lunch, we face-timed with my father back in the U.S. and everyone cried as we stated that “our relatives in heaven are smiling today!”
Our trip was the trip of a lifetime and the highlight was meeting family we didn’t even know we had, walking together down the roads that our ancestors walked!
Thank you, Lisa, for your suggestion. It made a wonderful trip so much more special and personal – one we will never forget.”
How absolutely fabulous! I am so happy to hear when readers and podcast listeners take a little Gem and turn it into such a once in a lifetime experience.
Thank you to Gail for taking the time to write and share this with me, and all of us who seek to know our ancestors!
More Gems on Making Cousin Connections
Follow Gail’s example and put into action new ideas for cousin connections. If you’ve had your DNA tested, don’t miss Diahan Southard’s newest quick reference guides that will help you get much more value out of your results. And keep reading below for more ideas:
Researching court records may require some advanced genealogical skills, but the benefits are worth the effort. Lisa Louise Cooke helps a reader get out of a genealogical slump and makes the case for why you should be researching court records.
Our reader shared:
I have been doing my family tree on and off for about 10 years. Right now, I feel I’m in a slump. A couple of years ago, I started the NGS Home Study Course. I have only got up to lesson six. I feel obligated to finish all 16 lessons. I get motivated to do genealogy when I read various articles on it. However, I can’t get motivated to do the work. This has bothered me for a year. Do you have any suggestions on how to get back on track? I know court records seems like a big mountain for me. Thank you in advance for any suggestions.
We all definitely hit slumps. I have some ideas and some motivations for you, because you are not alone.
Getting Over the Slump
You mentioned that you “feel obligated.” In reading your email, I’m curious as to what your original motivation was to do the course. If it was to become a professional genealogist, my answer would be different than if this was for your personal improvement. If this was for your own personal improvement, then you have much more flexibility.
At one time, the NGS American Home Study Course gave you a very lengthy time to finish the course work. Now, the classes are offered virtually online. Because of this change, the Home Study Courses are currently divided into four segments. Within each of these segments, you have four classes, or assignments. You are given six months to complete these four classes within your specific segment. For those who need extra time, a one-time extension of three months is granted by contacting the NGS Course Administrator. Also with this change, you may feel a little more pressure to finish quickly.
Genealogy Gems Contributor Amie Tennant offers this advice:
“First of all…when I took the NGS Home Study Course, I got in a huge slump too! It took nearly 3 years for me to finally finish all the course work. One thing that helped (which helps me now with getting behind in my certification portfolio,) is a method I call “A record a day, keeps procrastination at bay.” When I get bored or unmotivated, it is usually because something has gotten difficult. Lessons 1-6 of the NGS class were really easy for me, but after that it got harder, especially when it was time to do the courthouse review exercise that encourages you to make a visit. Even if you can’t visit the courthouse, you can often find appropriate records online. By promising myself a smaller more attainable goal like finding one key record a day online, I could keep motivated. Eventually something clicks and you get that excitement again.
Lastly, when I was really struggling, I took a friend. We made a day of it with researching at the courthouse and then having a nice relaxing lunch. It was a great day!”
Like Amie, when I find myself unmotivated, it is usually because it’s not my burning interest at that time. If I’m doing genealogy for personal use, I don’t fight it. Life’s too short and genealogy should be fun and invigorating. Sometimes, we’re just not ready for a particular record type, and if it’s not bringing your research to a standstill, there isn’t as much motivation. For me, there’s nothing like revisiting the excitement of what is waiting to be found! I asked Genealogy Gems followers on Facebook to share the Court gems they have found, and I hope it fills you with renewed excitement and enthusiasm. But first, here are some ideas on how to research court records:
Researching Court Records – How to
To get the most from researching
Will records are always a great find when researching court records.
court records, here are four tips to keep in mind:
1. Call the courthouse first. Ask them when they are open, days and times, and if they close during the lunch hour. (Sometimes this information on their website is not up to date.)
2. Ask what records are available at that location and for what years.It would be awful to drive to a far off location, only to find the probate records you are interested in are now housed 5o miles away at another repository!
3. Take the following with you: paper, pencils, a camera or smartphone, small bills and coins, a bottle of water and small snack. Even though there may be rules preventing you from snapping a picture of the document you want, you never know. The money comes in handy if you have to pay for copies of the records you want. Also, you are likely going to be there for awhile, so having a little snack will keep you from thinking only about your empty stomach.
4. Make your visit to the courthouse when you are not in a hurry.Let your finds determine how long you stay. When you are pressed for time, you may inadvertently skip over an important find, so set the whole day aside.
Making the Case for Court Records – Inspiration!
I asked our readers “What Genealogy Gems have you found in court records?” Get ready to soak in their excitement!
Kathleen shared: “An ancestor in the 1840s was living in Mississippi and had a 2nd wife and children. Everyone always assumed that the 1st wife died. Nothing in any records ever indicated anything different. On a trip to Salt Lake City ten years ago, I was frustrated and hitting dead ends. I decided to pull a film for Lawrence County, Mississippi loose court papers. It was NOT indexed and I was just browsing out of curiosity. I found my ancestor in 1849 with eleven pages of hand written divorce papers! She accused him of mistreatment and moving a slave woman into their residence who had threatened her with a knife when she went to get money for her nine children!”
Brian shared: “My brick wall has been my 2nd great-grandfather, John B. Reese. I knew he died sometime before 19 Dec 1856, as that was the date his estate entered probate. On a recent research trip to Missouri, I visited the Bates County Historical Museum where Chris Wimsatt found an entry in the County Stray Book indicating that John B. had found a stray “strawberry rone [roan] 3 years old 14 hands 3 inches high” 24 May 1856. Woo hoo! Narrowed that death date right down!”
Helen shared: “Just solved a century old mystery in the basement of a courthouse in the insane books. What would now be called postpartum psychosis.”
Diane: “My mom had a wealthy Aunt Jenny; we have her silver, antiques, etc. She was married to a lawyer who became Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court in the 1890s-1900s. I knew she was from a poor family and couldn’t imagine how they met. I found a hidden first marriage for her that my mom never knew about. When I got the divorce papers, turns out husband #2 had BEEN HER HUSBAND’S LAWYER. My mom almost fell over when I called her on the way home.”
Maria: “I also found a great uncle who ended up marrying a widow who was a millionaire from her late husband – she was old enough to be his mother & had step children older than him! Her life was in newspapers and court records! I found someone local to scan her succession & her late husband’s succession court documents to me. Fascinating stuff from the turn of the century to the 1930’s! It’s all public records! Also tracked down her great grandson; he sent me priceless photos. The kicker is after I found where the late husband was buried to document on Ancestry, the cemetery actually mailed ME a bill for grass cutting! – twice!”
Pat: “My great uncle came from Germany to wild West Denver 1860 and became a hard rock miner. How did I know? His court records regarding his death “found frozen to the floor in his mining cabin” shows what he owed at the time of death. Actual grocery list from Hancock Bros. Dry Goods Store where he bought (among other things) blasting powder, helped ID that he was hard rock rather than placer miner. Funeral info about how much it cost to dig his grave, use of team of horses, and a new set of clothes… Amazing. Find a Grave volunteer found the spot where he was buried WAY off the grid, off a side road. No headstone. Depression in grass x many feet from old fence. Volunteer contacted local historical society for me to find this on his own. Incredible. I wrote his story.”
More Gems on Researching Court Records
It seems many of us have had exciting breakthroughs researching court records. If you have had a triumph and would like to share, please let us know in the comments below. You can also read about even more inspiring ways to take your courthouse research to the next level in these articles below. Happy hunting!
A new documentary on Netflix tells the story of twins who were separated at birth–sent to different countries–who rediscovered each other through YouTube and Facebook. Become inspired and learn the remarkable story of how they were reunited by social media.
A new Netflix documentary on twins separated at birth is getting great reviews–and it’s a great story. We’ve all heard about twins being separated at birth before, but these were sent halfway across the world from each other. They only reconnected because a friend of one twin saw the other in a YouTube video.
I first read this story in the Irish Mirror. Anais, now a college student, grew up in France. She always knew she was adopted and that her biological mother was a single woman in Korea. One day, a friend sent her a YouTube comedy sketch performed by someone who looked just like her. She watched the video over and over. There was no contact information on it. Eventually, the same friend spotted the mystery girl again in a movie trailer. Suddenly, Anais was able to learn more about her from the IMBD database. Her name was Samantha and her birthday was the same as her own.
Anais reached out to Samantha on Facebook, saying she thought they were twins. Samantha replied with a copy of her adoption paperwork—from the same clinic. Three months later, they met in London where Anais lived. Each young woman took a DNA test and traveled to Korea to attend an adoptee conference together.
Throughout it all, Samantha had the video camera running. She’d already been on-screen in Memoirs of a Geisha and now she took a shot at directing herself and her sister as they were getting to know each other. The result is Twinsters and it’s on Netflix. The show is getting some awesome reviews from critics and audience members alike. If you’ve got Netflix, check it out!
This unlikely reunion started entirely on social media: YouTube, Facebook, and Skype. Just goes to show you the amazing power of these technologies to bring family members together!
More Stories Like This One: Reunited by Social Media